Government

Dean Jones, a resident of the Concern for Independent Living facility in Amityville which is constructing a new project in Port Jeff Station, speaks during a press conference on affordable housing in Suffolk County Oct. 2 flanked on the left by Richard Koubek, chair of the Welfare to Work Commission, and on the right by Legislator DuWayne Gregory. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s already difficult for both the young and old to find affordable housing in Suffolk County, but according to a recent report, the lack of low-cost homes and apartments is forcing some people to live without roofs over their heads entirely.

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Welfare to Work Commission, which advises the legislature on issues related to poverty in the county, released a report Oct. 2 that detailed the holes in affordable housing and government programs. Many of those homeless in Suffolk have some sort of job or income, according to the report.

“There has been some progress on public acceptance for affordable housing especially for working people, and especially for young people and senior citizens,” said Richard Koubek, the chair of the commission. “There still remains obstacles for creating affordable housing for two groups of residents: one is working poor families … the other are people who have mental illness which often leads to homelessness.”

The commission spent two-and-a-half years studying the issue of affordable housing and other related problems, including the county’s capacity to aid the homeless and those suffering from mental health issues. The final report showed high home and rent costs, along with government programs unable to handle the current numbers of people suffering from mental health issues, among its conclusions.

“There still remains obstacles for creating affordable housing for two groups of residents: one is working poor families … the other are people who have mental illness which often leads to homelessness.”

— Richard Koubek

Need for more affordable and supportive housing

As of January 2018, the advocacy group Long Island Coalition for the Homeless reported there were 3,868 homeless individuals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Not all homeless are considered chronically homeless, or individuals who have a disability and have been homeless for more than 12 months, or have had at least four stints without a home in the last three years. About 500 families are homeless, or 2,500 individuals, in Suffolk County, of which half have a source of income but are still unable to afford housing or rent costs, according to the report. The report said the county spends more than $19 million annually feeding and supporting this population.

The report noted the 2017 Suffolk County area yearly median income is $110,800, while the median price of a home in 2017 was $376,000, according to census data. If an individual or family spent 30 percent of income on housing costs, the national and suggested average, they would have to earn $125,000 a year to afford the median home price.

If a family wanted to rent, only 18 percent of available housing is rental, compared to the national average of 37 percent. Market rate for monthly apartment rentals in Suffolk was $1,589 in 2017, according to census data, meaning families in that market would have to earn $57,204 — 52 percent of the area median income — a year if they spent 30 percent of their income on the apartment costs. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) said Suffolk was ranked 57th out of 62 New York counties in rental affordability.

Greta Guarton, the executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said among government entities there is more of an emphasis on removing people from poverty rather than aiding people in poverty.

“The thinking used to be 20 percent of those who are homeless use 80 percent of emergency services,” Guarton said. “A fresh look at homelessness shows 80 percent of homeless families do not have disabilities. … In places like Long Island these people are homeless because they cannot find an affordable rental unit in this region’s tight, extremely expensive housing market.”

The LICH director added the most effective approach to combating homelessness is the Housing First Model, which tries to provide stability in a person’s life through housing, in addition to treatment and supportive services. With housing secured, those suffering from chronic homelessness can focus on stabilizing other parts of their lives, the report said.

“In places like Long Island these people are homeless because they cannot find an affordable rental unit in this region’s tight, extremely expensive housing market.”

— Greta Guarton

It is especially difficult for those suffering from mental illness to find affordable housing. Koubek said the emphasis has been moving away from asylums since the 1960s and toward community care facilities, but those smaller-scale places have not been financially supported, and there simply aren’t enough of them. The Suffolk County Department of Health Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services’ Single Point of Access program, which places people with mental illness into supportive housing, had a wait list 887 people long as of late 2017, according to the report. Those who wish to be placed on the list must attain a physician’s diagnosis, which the report calls difficult if the person is suffering alone or is already homeless.

People with undiagnosed mental illness also create a vacuum of funds — utilizing a huge chunk of the county’s money allocated for homeless programs. The report noted as much as $8 million of the $10 million in grants for homeless programs awarded to Long Island’s federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funded Continuum of Care program went to serving those with undiagnosed mental issues.

The study also pointed to incidents where people suffering from mental health issues were discharged from hospitals before they could receive the proper care. This puts more of an emphasis on requiring local government to funnel these people into supportive housing, which is difficult if they are released onto the street or remain undiagnosed.

The commission named a number of countywide solutions to address these issues, including increasing funding for the SPA program and improving the number of placements, prioritizing homeless families on the Public Housing Authority waiting lists, addressing substandard housing, improving Suffolk hospital discharge policies for the homeless and creating a coordinated county response to address low-income housing.

Current affordable housing projects trying to meet demand

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 $25.6 million had been awarded to four housing developments on Long Island to create 239 affordable homes.

On the state level, the report requested New York increases financial supports for capital construction and operating costs of supportive housing, and that it turns over unused state property to the county for the construction of more supportive housing.

Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and Legislator Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park), who also chairs the legislature’s Education & Human Services Committee, each said Oct. 2 a need exists for public-private partnerships to create more affordable housing options.

“Homelessness is not imagined — it exists here in Suffolk County because of government policies which create instability,” Gregory said. “If people are spending a greater percent of their income on housing costs it leads to difficult choices. Will they buy food and clothing for their children or will they pay for their own home?”

“If people are spending a greater percent of their income on housing costs it leads to difficult choices. Will they buy food and clothing for their children or will they pay for their own home?”

— DuWayne Gregory

In 2007 the commission issued another report, “Affordable for Whom? Creating Housing for Low and Moderate-Income People in Suffolk County,” which noted a public opinion poll showing 70 percent of Long Islanders seeing the need for more affordable housing while two-thirds of the same population not wanting it near their own communities. Koubek said this attitude is changing somewhat, but getting projects like these approved remains a tall task.

Roger Weaving Jr., the president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said the lack of affordable housing is a major reason why so many young people are leaving for other states. Many Long Islanders express concerns about having affordable two- to three-bedroom apartments in their communities, despite obvious demand for such dwellings.

“On the North Shore you can either have a single-family house or you can leave,” Weaving said. “While some of this is affected by state and county actions, a lot of action is at the town level, because they control zoning.”

Out of the money Cuomo helped set aside for affordable housing, $8.1 million was tabbed for construction of six two-story buildings on vacant land off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue. The project is being constructed by Medford-based Concern for Independent Living Inc. The development came under fire from the community, during a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting in May for various reasons, including concerns about overdevelopment and costs to educate children living in the new buildings.

Ralph Fasano, the executive director of Concern for Independent Living, said a section of the development is dedicated to housing veterans as well. He said the company plans to break ground on the project by December.

“It’s going to look [like the company’s development in Amityville] – it’s going to be quiet.” Fasano said.

PJSTCA president, Sal Pitti, declined to comment, and said the association would be having a civic member vote Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. on whether or not to publicly support the project.

From left, Legislative Aide Bill Maggi, Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett, HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino, Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle and HF Treasurer Cindy Gallo. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was honored at the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s Harvest Fair Oct. 6 for his many years of dedicated support of the farm’s programs. The legislator was recently able to secure a $29,616 grant for the 11-acre Centereach farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Children enjoy the farm’s Harvest Fair. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“This is a great place in Centereach — the last remaining farm we have in this area. Legislator Muratore was the one that really turned me on to Hobbs Farm and what was going on here,” Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said before presenting a plaque to the legislator along with the farm’s President Larry Corbett and Vice President Ann Pellegrino. “He’s been, for years, a huge supporter of this farm, whether it’s been working with me to do the Run the Farm to raise money, to bring in grants, to help out any way possible.”

“I can’t do enough for Hobbs Farm. This is our jewel here in the district. We love this place – it brings so much,” Muratore said, pointing to the families enjoying the festival. “I thank Ann, I thank Hobbs Farm and, most of all, I thank you my community. God bless you.”

Stock photo

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Concerns about accessing long-term care in the community is something we often discuss with our clients. How will they access the care? Who will pay for it? Is the care reliable? Can I safely and affordably age in place? 

The positive news is that there are many options for care in the community. We are fortunate to live in an area where care is accessible, reliable and affordable. Many of our clients are surprised to learn that Community Medicaid is a way to access care in the community. 

Unlike Chronic Medicaid, which requires a five-year financial look back as a prerequisite for eligibility, Community Medicaid does not have any look back. This means that with some relatively simple planning (in most cases) the financial eligibility requirements can be met with little to no waiting time.

It is important to note there are strict asset and income limitations for applicants for Community Medicaid. An applicant is permitted to have $15,150 in liquid nonretirement assets in his or her name (in New York for 2018). They can have an unlimited amount of qualified (retirement) accounts in their names so long as they are taking the required distribution as set out by the local Medicaid program. 

The primary residence is also an exempt resource, provided the Medicaid recipient remains in the home. It is advisable for all Medicaid recipients to do some estate planning with their home to ensure that it will remain protected should a need arise for care in a facility. Additionally, such planning can ensure that the home is protected from potential estate recovery after the death of the applicant. The applicant is also permitted to have an irrevocable prepaid prearranged funeral account.

With respect to income a single Medicaid applicant is permitted to retain $862 in monthly income. Any income amount over this allowance is considered “excess income.” The good news is that all of the Medicaid applicant’s excess income can be redirected into a pooled income trust, which is a type of special needs trust established and managed by nonprofit organizations for the benefit of disabled beneficiaries. The excess income transferred into a pooled trust can be used to pay the Medicaid applicant’s monthly household and personal expenses.

As you can see, with some relatively straightforward planning most people can qualify for Community Medicaid benefits. Once you have applied and been accepted under the Community Medicaid program, you can access a variety of services that will help you to remain in the community. 

For most of our clients the greatest benefit is the availability of a care provider who can come into their home and provide assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, light housekeeping and meal preparation. 

Community Medicaid will also cover the cost of certain approved assisted living facilities and some adult day care programs. The availability and accessibility of care in the community is oftentimes far more available than most of our clients think. 

The community-based Medicaid program is invaluable for many seniors who wish to age at home but are unable to do so without some level of care and certain supplies the cost of which would be otherwise too expensive to sustain on their own. With some careful planning aging in place is certainly a viable option for most clients we meet.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Feds recommend trio of changes in staffing, hiring and overtime management to facility’s new leadership

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

A federal investigation into Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s four community living centers has shown a troubling trend of chronic nursing staff shortages and excessive overtime, issues that could have placed patients “at a higher risk for adverse events.”

In one case, federal investigators found a nurse’s assistant worked double shifts for six straight days — more than 96 hours in a single week – while expected to diligently oversee a patient requiring one-on-one care.

As the Northport facility is the only VA Medical Center on Long Island it serves more than 31,000 patients per year and oversees several outpatient clinical sites. Its four nursing homes are located in two buildings, with an approximate capacity of 170 beds.

The Office of Inspector General, a division of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, charged with independent oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs programs, received several anonymous complaints about the quality of care received at Northport VAMC in 2017 following the deaths of two patients.

In September 2017, the OIG launched a year-long investigation into staffing shortages after receiving two further emails: the first from an employee at Northport VAMC, the second from a liaison to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The investigation produced a Sept. 18 report (click here to read the full report) that found Northport VAMC’s leadership knew about the staff shortages, forced administrative level nurses to care for patients, and yet still continued to accept new patients despite knowing they wouldn’t have the staff needed to provide the expected level of care.

Federal investigators recognized in August 2017 there was significant turnover in the leadership at the Northport VAMC, affecting key positions such as its director, acting chief of staff and acting nurse executive, who were cited “as catalysts for this change.” Staff members’ remarks indicated it’s given them hope for a better future.

The agency recommended a series of changes for the Northport VAMC pertaining to the nursing staff currently being enacted, and the facility says is bringing immediate tangible results.

Two patient deaths

Anonymous complaints about two patient deaths at the Northport VAMC in 2017 started the series of federal investigations into the facility.

The first death was a male patient in his late 60s who died as a result of choking on his food. Federal inspectors found insufficient evidence the man’s death was due to a lack of nurse oversight, as alleged in the complaints, but did conclude Northport VAMC had ongoing challenges in maintaining basic necessary staffing levels.

“Conditions such as staffing shortages could create an environment where the increased workload assigned to each staff member was such that it became more difficult to remain vigilant,” the report reads.

A forum was held for the Northport VA nursing homes staff to voice their concerns with the facility and its operation while an investigation of the first patient’s death was ongoing.

“Many [staff members] shared a concern about staffing levels being too low,” the report reads.

A second death raised claims of poor quality of care in the Northport vets nursing homes, after a patient in his mid-60s slipped, fell and fractured his hip. He underwent surgery and six days later stopped breathing. Allegations included the VA staff failed to protect the patient from falling and failed to properly provide
one-on-one observation post surgery, neither of which was substantiated by federal investigators.

The investigation into the second death showed the nurse’s assistant caring for him was on her sixth consecutive day of double shifts — 16 hours at a stretch. Investigators again cited “concern that working extra hours with double shifts could lead to staff becoming tired and less vigilant.”

A staff member working double shifts was not common practice, according to Northport VAMC spokesman Levi Spellman, who said union workers are contractually required to have 10 to 12 hours off between nursing shifts.

Closer look at staffing numbers

Records pulled by the federal investigators showed Northport VAMC has been chronically short of nursing staff dating back to at least 2016. Allegations were made that understaffing could lead to a higher rate of “nurse-sensitive outcomes,” such as surgical wounds getting infected, urinary tract infections, ulcers and pneumonia.

Northport’s four nursing homes were found to be short approximately 6.3 full-time employees in 2016 needed to meet VA’s recommended number of nursing hours spent with patients per day. By 2017, the facility’s staffing shortage had more than doubled, with 15.3 additional full-time employees needed. Northport VAMC’s nursing homes were only staffed at 60 to 80 percent of recommended levels over the two years, according to federal investigators.

Northport VAMC’s leadership attempted to tackle the short staffing issue by using “floating” shifts and overtime — sometimes mandatory, according to the federal report. Floating shifts meant staff from other areas of the VAMC were brought in to assist with patients in the nursing homes.

In 2016, Northport VAMC’s nursing home employees put in a  total of 19,991 hours of overtime. It nearly doubled by the end of 2017 as only 107.9 of the facility’s authorized 128 full-time positions were filled, according to Spellman, causing the facility’s overtime costs to skyrocket to nearly $1.5 million.

“Nurse managers had no mechanism to alert them if one of their unit nursing personnel worked excessive OT,” the report reads.

Federal investigators found part of the nursing homes’ staffing issues were due to an inability to hire and retain the members of its nursing staff. Northport VAMC got approval to hire 10 additional registered nurses and 10 nurse assistants as intermittent staff in November 2016, though the team wasn’t assembled until August 2017.

Often the process of hiring new nursing staff was delayed. In one instance, Northport’s leadership said two applicants interviewed and hired in January 2017 were told they would not start working until July.

“This delay in hiring often resulted in the loss of selected applicants who took other jobs,” the report reads.

The leadership of Northport VAMC said the high cost of living on Long Island has also made finding and maintaining a full-time staff difficult.

“Not only does this affect our ability to retain talent, but to recruit it as well,” spokesman Spellman said.

Steps to improvement

The federal investigators made three recommendations to Northport VAMC in order to  ensure it has adequate nursing care for its patients and improve quality of care for residents.

First, that the VAMC’s acting director, Dr. Cathy Cruise, completes a review of the nursing homes to ensure staffing levels align with the needs of its current residents. More staff should be recruited and hired to fill the current vacancies “until optimal staffing is attained,” reads the report.

Spellman said leadership of Northport VAMC, including Cruise, have already started taking action, implementing changes to improve the quality of care and working conditions.

A registered nurse clinical coordination position has been added in order to streamline nursing staff’s efficiency, according to Spellman. At the beginning of 2018, the facility was given approval to hire 2.6 more full-time employees and another 10 staff members were recently approved to bring the total nursing staff to the equivalent 140.6 positions.

“A staffing methodology is in the process of being completed, with additional staff expected,” Spellman said.

The Northport VA has received approval to directly hire its nursing staff and is giving new employees immediate start dates, according to him. It also had plans to expand its nursing floating pool, and to cross train other VAMC nurses in long-term care to continue to grow the available number of staff who can provide residents with care.

Third, Northport’s leadership was also told to improve its management of staff’s overtime hours and make sure of future responsible use of financial resources, citing the $1.5 million in 2017 overtime.

“Federal employees are expected to be good stewards of government funds,” the report reads. “The OIG found a lack of accountability for managing OT expenditures.

Spellman said the nursing homes staff had a total weekly average of 437.3 hours of overtime for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. This indicates a significant drop from last year, where the total weekly average of overtime exceeded 750 hours.

“All of this is to say that, while the OIG has helped Northport identify areas in which we can improve, we have implemented measures to make those improvements — and we are already seeing results,” Spellman said.

Volunteers, above, plant lettuce at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in the spring. Photo by Heidi Sutton

More educational programs are coming to the last farm in Centereach thanks to a county grant.

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) sponsored a resolution to amend the 2018 operating budget and transfer funds to Sachem Teen Center, Suffolk County Police Athletic League and Bethel Hobbs Community Farm. The transfer resulted in a $29,616 grant for the farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Vice President Ann Pellegrino by one of the farm’s raised gardens. File photo

Vice President Ann Pellegrino said Muratore has been one of the farm’s biggest supporters for years, and to thank him, he will receive a plaque at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s annual Fall Harvest Festival Oct. 6.

“He sees the good work that we’re doing over here, and he always likes to help us out,” she said. “And this year, he really pushed for a grant.”

Muratore said he loves the farm. A few years ago, he joined Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) in organizing Run the Farm, an annual four-mile race fundraiser.

“I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful asset that we have in the district and in the county,” the legislator said. “Ann Pellegrino does so much with that place and with the children, and people get to buy fruits and vegetables there that are homegrown. It’s really a big plus for the community.”

Muratore said his fellow county legislators voted unanimously for the grant.

He said it’s up to Pellegrino what she does with the funds. The farm’s vice president said she plans to use the money to enhance the educational programs it offers for students with things like farm tours and making salads with them. In the future, she said she would love to build an indoor classroom so when it’s cold or raining outside, programs can be held indoors. She said it’s the first time they received a significant amount of money. “We’ve never had that, never,” Pellegrino said. “We’re always scrounging for pennies. There is so much we can do with that.”

Pellegrino invites the community to the farm’s 10th annual Fall Harvest Festival which will be held this Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The afternoon will feature tractor rides, live music, face painting, pumpkins, a bounce house, games and contests, food, a visit from the “Science Guy,” a farm stand and much more. Admission to the festival is free with fees for certain activities.

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm is located at 178 Oxhead Road, Centereach. For more information, visit www.hobbsfarm.info.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town residents will see a small increase in their 2019 town tax bill, and minimal use of surplus to balance the proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) roughly $302 million tentative spending plan, presented during a media briefing at Town Hall Sept. 28, maintains all constituent services and full-time staffing from the current operating budget, increases funding for road maintenance and keeps the garbage district rate flat at $350 annually.

The 2019 tentative budget represents an approximately $8 million increase compared to the current year. The primary cost drivers of the budget cited by Romaine are a collective bargaining agreement mandated cost-of-living raise for town employees; an extra pay day for all employees in 2019; and a more than 6 percent increase in cost of employee benefits. Still, the proposed budget complies with the state-mandated 2 percent property tax increase cap.

Romaine discussed the lack of a need to use fund balance reserve dollars to balance the budget as a point of pride in presenting the ’19 tentative budget.

“One of my key strategic financial goals since taking office in November 2012 has been to bring the town’s finances to structural balance,” he said. “The three-point plan I implemented six years ago has put an end to deficit spending, has rebuilt the town’s surpluses and has improved the town’s credit rating to a AAA with Standard & Poor’s.”

Matt Miner, town chief of operations, said it’s been more than a decade since the town had a balanced budget requiring no fund balance.

“This is really the highlight of the supervisor’s budget,” he said. “You can see that the town, prior to Supervisor Romaine’s arrival, relied heavily on the use of fund balance surplus to balance its budget and the supervisor has been very aggressive and instructed both [Tamara Wright, town commissioner of finance] and myself and all of the department heads to craft budgets to bring that application of surplus down. Each year, we’ve been doing that and to the supervisor’s credit, it is now at zero in all six major funds, something that really hasn’t been achieved.”

The supervisor touted a rededication to growing non-property tax sources of revenue, including a “huge rally” in mortgage tax receipts in recent years. The 2017 operating budget was boosted by an increase in mortgage tax revenue also not seen in nearly a decade, though 2018 estimates are falling slightly short of that performance, according to Romaine. Still, he indicated there are positive signs for the town’s housing market. In 2013, more than 62 percent of the operating budget was funded by property taxes, according to him, compared to an estimated 58.7 percent in the tentative ’19 budget.

“We have 41 grants that we have been successful in receiving, and we have another 25 in the hopper,” Romaine said, of other revenue streams for the town. “So by attracting and aggressively going after grant money, we’ve been able to cut down on our dependence on property tax.”

The town’s proposed budget includes about $87 million in capital projects for 2019. About $58 million of those funds will be set aside for new capital projects with the remainder going to projects started in prior years. Brookhaven also received a $20 million grant as the winner of New York State’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.  

A public hearing on the budget is slated for Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall with expected adoption to take place Nov. 20.

A Qwik Ride vehicle currently on the streets of Patchogue. Photo from Qwik Ride

Village of Northport officials are hoping business owners and residents will extend a warm welcome to a new transportation service prepared to roll out next week.

Qwik Ride will be expanding its shuttle service to downtown Northport Oct. 3, offering free pick-up and drop-off from/to area restaurants, stores and businesses. The company is based in Patchogue and launched a second service in Huntington village in late August.

“The Northport Village officials thought this would be great, once they heard that we were operating in Huntington,” Qwik Ride co-owner Daniel Cantelmo said. “ They reached out to us.”

“t’s a good fit because we have a parking problem. We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

— Tom Kehoe

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport village, said he first learned about the service through members of the village’s Business Development Committee. The company offers rides in modified six-passenger golf carts equipped with heat and small television screens to shuttle passengers around busy downtown areas.

“It’s a good fit because we have a parking problem,” Kehoe said. “We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

The village has retained consultants Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport, according to Kehoe, which is already underway. Level G Associates has previously performed parking studies for other Suffolk towns including Huntington and Kings Park.

Kehoe said there is a need for the village to be proactive in tackling its parking issues given the proposed development on its horizon. Kevin O`Neill and his business partner, Richard Dolce, both of John W. Engeman Theater, have proposed plans to construct a hotel at 225 Main St. that are moving forward.

“There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic,” said Jim Izzo, vice president of Northport Chamber of Commerce. “This seems to be a viable alternative.”

Izzo, owner of Cow Harbor Realty, said he hopes that Qwik Ride can be part of the village’s multipronged approach to solving traffic congestion. He would like to see village business employees park further from Main Street to open up more spaces for clients and customers, leaving spots that will turn over at a faster pace.

There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic. This seems to be a viable alternative.”

— Jim Izzo

“It would be a big deal to get a lot of the parking spots freed up,” Izzo said.

The chamber’s vice president acknowledged that O`Neill already offers a valet parking system to assist theatergoers and help reduced Main Street backup.

“He’s been trying to solve the problem on his own,” Izzo said. “As a collective, we have a real chance of making a difference, not just a Band-Aid. If everyone got on board, it would behoove everyone.”

Qwik Ride gave a presentation to Northport chamber members at its Sept. 25 meeting. The company will start with two vehicles offering services via an app in the approximate geographic area from Napper Tandy’s on Route 25A/Fort Salonga north to James Street, then from Laurel Avenue west to the waterfront. The service area will be somewhat limited as Qwik Ride uses electric vehicles and given Northport’s hilly
topography.

“Parking is a serious situation that doesn’t get better by ignoring it,” Izzo said. “Some things are going to work and some things will fail miserably. If we don’t take a shot, we’ll never know.”

Brookhaven’s current pump-out boats are showing signs of wear and will be replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

If you’ve ever seen a boat with a built-in toilet, the next question is inevitable: Where does that waste inevitably go?

Either the waste goes straight into the Long Island Sound or surrounding harbors or boaters call the Town of Brookhaven’s pump-out boats, a service provided by the town for free, to suck out the waste, according to Karl Guyer, a senior bay constable for Brookhaven.

At Brookhaven town’s Sept. 13 meeting the board voted unanimously to purchase two new pump-out boats — one for Mount Sinai Harbor and one for Port Jefferson Harbor. The total cost for both boats is $92,500 with $60,000 of that amount coming from state aid in grant funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The town is supplying $32,500 in matching funds from serial bonds, according to town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

The town operates four pump-out boats, including two on the South Shore and two on the North Shore, which are located in Port Jeff and Mount Sinai harbors. All these boats were purchased in 2006, and Guyer said it was time all of them were replaced. The two on the South Shore were replaced this year, and the North Shore boats will be replaced early in 2019, according to Guyer.

“They’ve been in service for quite a number of years and they’re at the end of their life span,” Guyer said.

The pump-out boat in Port Jeff Harbor is showing signs of long use. The paint on the boat’s deck has been worn down by years of work, and there are cracks showing in some of the plastic hatches around the boat. William Demorest, the bay constable for Port Jeff Harbor, said the new boats will be made from aluminum, which should give them a longer life span.

The pump-out boat service is widely used by the boaters in both harbors, and on a busy day town employees operating the boats can service hundreds of boats in a single day. People can call for a pump out by radioing the constable’s office on channel 73.

There is a manual boat waste pump in a barge inside Port Jeff Harbor, though the constable said 75 percent of the over 700 boats that come to port on summer weekends use the pump-out boat service. After the pump-out boats are docked for the winter, all North Shore boaters are required to manually pump out their own waste.

Bonner said these boats do a major service in cleaning out the tanks of many boaters, because dumping the waste into the coastal waters only adds to the islands growing water pollution problem.

“Not only would there be waste in the water but the nitrogen load would be crazy,” Bonner said. “It would take several tides to flush that out.”

All the water from Conscience Bay through Port Jefferson Harbor as well as the entire Long Island Sound is within mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency No-Discharge Zones, meaning it is illegal to dump any boat waste into the surrounding waters.

While Demorest said he hasn’t seen people dumping their waste into the water himself, he has heard reports of it being done. He said he believed the vast majority use the free pump-out service.

“If we don’t see it, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Many areas of the North Shore are experiencing waves of hypoxia, an increase of nitrogen in the water that deprives sea life, both plants and animals, of oxygen. During a press conference Sept. 25, co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership concluded there were cases of harmful algae blooms in harbors from Mount Sinai all the way to Huntington, another symptom of excess nitrogen in the water. Most of that nitrogen has come from cesspools and septic tanks from people’s homes slowly leaking into the surrounding waters.

The boats usually operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday mostly by high school and college-aged summer employees, according to Guyer. The pump-out boat service ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

Construction has temporarily ceased on the site of the future Stony Brook Square until the owner can provide better site plans to the town’s planning board. By Rita J. Egan

The future of a Stony Brook shopping center has been put on hold until the Town of Brookhaven’s Planning Board members get some answers.

At the town’s Sept. 17 planning meeting, representatives for Little Rock Construction and its president Parviz Farahzad were seeking approval for modifications that were made to site plans to Stony Brook Square, a shopping center under construction across from the Stony Brook train station on Route 25A. A stop work order was issued after town inspectors discovered discrepancies between the site plans and what has already been completed on the construction site.

“It’s so hard to believe that these kinds of major changes would be made to the site plan without any type of authorization or approval.”

— Herb Mones

Among the modifications were the changing of two building locations, handicap accessible parking, cross access and grading.

Farahzad’s attorney, Hauppauge-based Tim Shea, contacted Three Village Civic Association representatives Herb Mones, chair of the association’s land use committee, and George Hoffman, 1st vice president of the association, Sept. 24 to go over the modifications, according to Mones.

“It’s so hard to believe that these kinds of major changes would be made to the site plan without any type of authorization or approval,” Mones said in a phone interview, adding in the past the town, civic association and community members provided input for the location’s plans.

Mones said a major objection from members of the civic association is the entryway changing from the initially approved 24 feet to 30. This adjustment means the largest building on the property is shifted 5 feet to the west from the original plans and closer to the historic home on the 3-acre site that Mones said during 25A visioning community meetings residents felt was essential to preserve and feature in the project.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, Farahzad’s engineer Michael Williams said his office was contacted earlier this year by the applicant to review claims by the site contractor that there were issues with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance in front of the building. He said the cross slope through the handicap accessible parking and access aisle was too steep pursuant to federal regulations. To alleviate the issue of the ADA ramp’s cross slope, the elevation of the site closest to the driveway entrance was changed, and the site was flattened, which increased the size of the entranceway.

Mones said the civic association also has issues with an area that was designated for land banking now being used for 19 parking spots. He explained that land banking allows for an area to be landscaped until it is proven a business owner needs it for parking.

He said while he appreciates the town was alerted to the changes and put a stop work order on the construction, he believes it still poses problems.

“Is it going to send a message out to developers that you can willy-nilly make changes in the approved site plan and then ask for forgiveness?”

— Herb Mones

“I think the town has a challenge before them,” Mones said. “Is it going to send a message out to developers that you can willy-nilly make changes in the approved site plan and then ask for forgiveness?”

Mones said representatives from the civic association would be attending the Oct. 1 Planning Board meeting.

“We think that the town should adhere to the site plan that was developed, and since the project is far from being completed, it shouldn’t be difficult for [the developer] to adhere to the site plan that they originally planned on with the town, with the town planners and with the community,” Mones said.

The Planning Board members put their decision on hold until the Oct. 1 meeting, and Farahzad was advised to bring updated site plans Oct. 1 and to consult with the Three Village Civic Association about the modifications.

“I would like to see a plan that shows what’s existing — not proposed — and what we had previously approved and what has changed,” said assistant town attorney Beth Reilly at the Sept. 17 meeting. “Because when you look at this it looks like nothing is out there, but that’s not what our inspectors found when they did a stop work order on this job. I feel like the plans still don’t match what we’re being told.”

Farahzad did not respond to requests for comment.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Port Jefferson and Northport-East Northport school districts, as well as the Town of Huntington, were dealt a blow in the legal battle against Long Island Power Authority in August. But, it doesn’t mean they are going down without a fight.

Port Jeff board of education voted unanimously — 6-0 with board President Kathleen Brennan absent — during a Sept. 24 special meeting to file an appeal of New York State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson’s Aug. 16 ruling that LIPA “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciapetta said the municipality formally filed its appeal of Emerson’s decision the following day, Sept. 25.

The judge’s ruling dismissed the third-party lawsuits brought forth by Huntington and the two school districts which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The resolution passed by Port Jeff school board authorized its legal counsel, Ingerman Smith, LLP, to file the appeal.

“We do think her decision was incorrect, and clearly we do recommend that the board consider filing a notice of appeal in this proceeding,” said attorney John Gross of Ingerman Smith, LLP, prior to Port Jeff’s Sept. 24 vote.
Northport-East Northport’s board trustees had previously voted to pursue an appeal at their Sept. 6 meeting.

Gross, who has been hired to represent both Northport and Port Jeff schools, said the districts

will have six months to perfect appeals. During this time, the districts’ legal team will prepare a record including all exhibits, witness depositions, and information gathered from the examination of about 60,000 pages of documents. He said a brief outlining the  legal arguments against Emerson’s decision will be crafted prior to submitting the appeal.
LIPA will be given several months to prepare a reply, according to Gross, prior to oral arguments before a four-judge panel in New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Further appeals are possible following that decision. Gross said the process could take more than a year.

Meanwhile, Huntington Town, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid have agreed to pursue non-binding mediation relating to the case, which begins Sept. 26. Gross said while Port Jeff is not a party to the mediation, it will be monitoring the outcome because the process could establish a pattern of resolution for its case. He also said the district can withdraw its appeal at any time, but once that occurs it cannot rejoin the process.

“Legal actions taken by the Town [of Brookhaven], [Port Jefferson] Village and school district to generate an equitable solution to the LIPA tax assessment challenges are intended to protect its residents and children against exorbitant property tax increases; especially in a very short interval of time,” Port Jeff school district said in a publicly released letter Sept. 12 prior to passing a resolution authorizing the appeal. “Please know, that the district fully understands that the decision about engaging legal counsel is one to be made with great care, as it always carries a financial implication while never guaranteeing a verdict in one’s favor.”

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